School reopenings amid coronavirus: Still unclear how much young kids spread illness, Birx says

'I think that is still an open question that needs to be studied in the United States'

Back to school season is quickly approaching, with school reopenings remaining a contentious debate in the U.S. amid the ongoing coronavirus epidemic.

Longtime physician and coordinator of the White House's coronavirus task force, Dr. Deborah Birx, remarked Friday on the uncertainty around how quickly school-aged children — namely those under 10  — spread the novel virus.

"We know that children under 18 are less sick, but there are some that suffer terrible consequences if they have underlying conditions," Birx said during a morning appearance on NBC’s TODAY show.


"What I can't tell you for sure despite the South Korea study is whether children under 10 in the United States don't spread the virus the same as children over 10,” she continued.

"I think that is still an open question that needs to be studied in the United States. We certainly know from other studies that children under 10 do get infected, it's just unclear how rapidly they spread the virus,” added Birx.

Brix was referencing a recent study from South Korea that found a higher prevalence of COVID-19 transmission stemmed from older school-aged children than those under the age of nine.

Study authors said the large-scale investigation is representative of most COVID-19 patients early during the outbreak in South Korea.

“We showed that household transmission of SARS-CoV-2 was high if the index patient (or first documented case within a cluster) was 10–19 years of age,” they wrote.


The team monitored nearly 65,000 patients for about 10 days after a coronavirus infection was detected, finding a total of 11.8 percent of household contacts of these “index patients” had a COVID-19 infection. In households with patients between 10 and 19 years old, nearly 19 percent of household contacts had an infection.

“Our large-scale investigation showed that pattern of transmission was similar to those of other respiratory viruses,” the authors wrote. “Although the detection rate for contacts of preschool-aged children was lower, young children may show higher attack rates when the school closure ends, contributing to community transmission of COVID-19.”

Birx’s comments came after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) on Thursday released various virtual tools and guidelines geared toward assisting schools and educational staff around the country as in-person classes are set to resume in the fall.

The suggestions, which are listed on the agency's website, are also designed to help parents make certain their children are as protected as possible by taking specific precautions to limit the spread of COVID-19.


“Knowledge is power, and I think why that was very important that the president yesterday had the map behind him showing where the most recent cases are," Birx said Friday. "Those were the cases over the last seven to 14 days really to inform the public there are areas in the United States where cases are rapidly increasing and continue to increase.

"And in those cases and with the new CDC guidelines to really give parents, school administrators, teachers and the county supervisors really an understanding of where they are in the epidemic and what precautions they need to take,” she added.

Fox News’s Kayla Rivas and Nick Givas contributed to this report.